Captain America has been saying he’s going to leave acting for a little over a year now. Before We Go represents his first directorial effort, but he clearly spent more time on the side of the camera more familiar to him.
Freshman director Chris Evans stars as Nick Vaughan, a jazz trumpet player doodling around Grand Central Station. His night gets knocked for a loop when he runs into Brooke Dalton (Alice Eve), who has missed her train, lost her purse and broken her phone. Despite Dalton being a horrible jerk about it all, the duo wanders New York City for a night, questing for Dalton’s lost purse and Vaughan’s lost love and generally running afoul of every romantic cliche imaginable.
I think I’ve found a nice interpretation of this movie’s problem — they only had a $3 million budget, so they couldn’t afford anyone who had ever operated a camera before. Or they could only afford one camera and the aperture was broken. It was something like that.
There is something out of focus in every single frame of this movie. In most shots, there’s more out of focus than in it. In its many shot-reverse-shot sequences, the speaking character is in focus, the non-speaking character is out of focus but with half of their blurry face framed over half of the in-focus face, and the background blurred to the point of pixelation. In one shot toward the end, Dalton is in focus and everything else is a little out of focus, then the shot pans over to Vaughan who is a half-step further away from the camera and just as dull as the background. If you know what you’re looking for, you can see the moment where the cameraman turns the knob the wrong direction, just for a second, as he brings Vaughan back into focus.
Clearly there was some form of intent here — it’s not like Evans looked at the footage and said, “Oh, no one will ever notice” — but that intent is unclear and whatever effect they were going for could probably be accomplished in a number of different, better ways. A sense of unpredictability, the likely goal, is an easy thing to create and has nothing to do with depth of field. Just have the camera swim a little — less than it swims in Before We Go, actually, since at times in this movie it looks like the cameraman is having a minor stroke — and cut the non-diagetic music. The feeling they actually do create is wonder at why everything is so blurry.
Film is a visual medium. It is impossible to have a strong film with weak visuals — no such thing exists, or ever will exist. This nonchalance about the way a movie looks betrays a deep lack of understanding about how movies work and what they even are, and it gets to the point of outright disrespect for the audience. Contempt for viewers is normally a good thing when it comes to forming plotlines, but not when it comes to making what appears to be an intentionally bad movie.
On some level, however, it is a good thing that no one wasted any real effort on the visuals, because no photography could polish this turd of a script. The plot is jumpstarted by Vaughan being creepily obsessed with Dalton and then helped along by Dalton being an insufferable shrew. Having sat through the entire movie, 96 minutes that feel closer to 156, it becomes clear that the only interesting thing about these characters is that they’re in pain — a terrible sign on its own — and that pain isn’t spelled out until 50-70 minutes into the movie. The entire script hinges on viewers liking and caring about these people and wanting to spend time with them, and they try to backfill the only flimsy reason to care about them after about an hour of hating their guts.
There are reasons to be coy about plot, but when the part of the plot you’re being coy about is the only reason to care about either of your characters, things tend to fall apart in a hurry. No one is going to sit through a movie that doesn’t tell them why any of this matters until two thirds of the way through, even if it’s well-shot, which this decidedly isn’t.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. “All women are so unique.” I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.